top of page
  • gerard van weyenbergh

Dada, a basic description

Dada was born in the First World War. The avant-garde group formed by poets and artists in the heart of the city of Zurich in 1916, it brings together young people opposed to the war, anti-militarists or deserters. Nihilist, provocative, Dada erects the absurd in a keyword against the infamy of a devastating world conflict. It disturbs the bourgeois order, which made war possible. If it was short-lived, Dada spread its spirit of contradiction around the world and is one of the seeds of surrealist thought, also very politicized.

Its history, its key ideas

Dada flourished in Zurich, Switzerland (a neutral country during the Great War) in 1916, but the origins of its foundation lie in Berlin. Poet Hugo Ball , negativist, is the enunciator of a thought advocating anarchy, rejection of the past and bourgeois conventions. In short, a radical movement was born in 1915, which became Dada.

The name "Dada", invented in 1916, was found by chance, by searching blindly for any word in a Franco-German dictionary, by its founders ( Hugo Ball, Tristan Tzara, Emmy Hennings, Marcel Janco ). Of course, this neological birth (of which Tzara claims authorship) is probably legendary. The members of the group wanted above all to find a word understandable by all nationalities, inviting the world of childhood (and therefore of innocence), the absurd and the game.

The place invested by these artists and poets is the Cabaret Voltaire, in Zurich, a name that pays homage to the anticlerical philosopher of the Enlightenment. The inauguration took place on February 5, 1916. Fifty spectators could listen to concerts, readings, debates, and see performances in a setting rich in Cubist and futuristic paintings. As Hugo Ball says, the Cabaret Voltaire is above all a "place of culture," it is neither a performance hall nor a cabaret.

Dada is available in paper version. Quickly, the movement created a magazine to disseminate its ideas. It takes the name of Cabaret Voltaire and publishes its first (and only) number in May 1916. In the same way, it is considering to create an art gallery, but its existence does not exceed a few weeks in 1917.

Very quickly, the Dada spirit spreads to the rest of the world. First, in Germany, in Berlin, where he found new members (like the painter George Grosz, who opposed the war). The movement takes on a more aesthetic dimension and becomes politicized. The cities of Hanover and Cologne are also concerned, then New York, Madrid, Barcelona, ​​where are grouped avant-garde artists who fled mobilization and war in their country of origin.

Dada is both a fragmented movement and a movement that unites all avant-garde artists in times of war. In Paris, the repercussions of Dada are expressed especially from 1920 around Francis Picabia, Tristan Tzara, André Breton, etc., as many personalities who will form the surrealist group. A Dada festival is organized at the Salle Gaveau and arouses misunderstanding. The group disintegrated definitively in 1921.


bottom of page